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Bragging Rights for Losers

This isn’t going to be about losing pounds.

It’s about feeling down, confused, and wondering why prayers keep coming back like undeliverable e-mails, or unopened envelopes marked “return to sender,” … and then finding help from someone who endured similar fears and frustrations– but to a far greater degree.

He had made a name for himself. The most important book in the world would eventually tell his story. He could have talked endlessly about the miracles he had seen, and the people he had helped.

His annual reports could have looked impressive in miles traveled, meetings held, lessons taught, and problems endured.

But there’s also a huge down side to Paul’s story that shows up with a twist when he claims bragging rights nobody would envy. Not wanting to be misunderstood, he wrote,

“I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again.

Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not.

I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of how the churches are getting along” (2Cor 11:23-28, NLT).

If we don’t stop to think about what Paul had endured in behalf of Christ, we might be put off by his “boasting”– except for what it really involved… and because Paul was so careful to not take credit for what he had done.

In an earlier letter to the same people Paul had written, “I have worked harder than all the other apostles, yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace” (1Cor 15:10).

In his second letter, Paul went on to say that he had learned that if he really wanted to brag, it should be about his weakness– for it was in the middle of humanly unsolvable problems that he had experienced the presence and strength of his Lord.

So Paul adds, for our benefit, that in his overwhelming problems, the Lord had said, “My power works best in your weakness.” So Paul writes, “I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Cor 12:9-10).

What a strange prescription for trouble. Yet when I look back– rather than trying to do the impossible of seeing forward, I see it once again. Our Father and Lord leads all of his children through a similar path that enables us to understand not only the apostle Paul’s “bragging rights for losers” but also the wisdom of another Apostle who wrote,

“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men [and women] of mature character with the right sort of independence” (James 1:2-4, Phillips trnsl).

So may our Lord  help us today not to waste the pain… and even more importantly… not to waste the pain on ourselves.

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23 Responses to “Bragging Rights for Losers”

  1. Ted M. Gossard says:

    Yes indeed. As I think I was reading from N.T. Wright from a 2006 book he wrote on Paul, it was a strange combination of his weakness and God’s strength at work (my words of what he was saying, I think). Certainly a hard “sell” in this world, but one that has to be learned in following Jesus.

    Helpful post.

  2. SFDBWV says:

    This is a very true commentary. Only through trials and tribulations do we despare so deeply that our only hope is found in God. So we get out of the spotlight and let God be seen.

    That doesn’t make the journey of life any easier. Sometimes it makes it almost impossible to go on.

    Paul had encounters with God that gave him strength to endure, even his strength came from God.

    Mart started out this comentary by asking what happens when our prayers keep coming back unanswered?

    Paul’s suffering included all the physical pain described above. Yet it was the mental anguish that made his and our lives more intolerable.

    Except for Paul’s admission that he wanted his “family” the Jew to come to salvation, and was disappointed at the lack of success in that endevor. We really see little about his unanswered prayers.

    Yes his famous report about not being healed himself of an unknown ailment is recorded. But what was Paul’s unanswered prayers?

    Did he ask for an easier walk? Did he ask not to suffer the physicial sufferings he endured?

    We don’t know because he never complained about unanswered prayers.

    He kept to the mission God gave him to do, suffering all the problems that life set before him. Bragging only that through his suffering the strength of God was experianced.

    We all have yet unanswered prayers. Do we give up on God? On our faith? Or do we just keep going on, with the hope of Jesus Christ as our vision and strength?

  3. saled says:

    At Kings Landing, New Brunswick, Canada, there is a little church that has this saying on the wall:

    In its true light, this
    transient life reguard;
    This is a state of
    trial, not reward.

    Sometimes other people’s lives look like they are perfect, but the older I get, the more I realize that everyone has trials of some kind. And in the last few years, I have gained a little peace from realizing that my own life is never going to be perfect, never going to be free of trials. I don’t look on my trials as friends, but I guess the peace comes from knowing that God can work through the trials, that I don’t need to try to control everything and create a perfect life.

  4. poohpity says:

    I believe that God answers all prayers maybe not as we would like just as Jesus told Paul no. Jesus told Paul his strength was all he needed. Paul’s pain was not wasted it made him weak so that the Lord would become stronger in his life. Some times for those who consider themselves to be physically or emotionally strong, the Lord will bring us to our knees so that we will learn to depend on God alone and it would be a privilege to be humbled in that way.

  5. SFDBWV says:

    The trick is knowing the difference between kicking against the thorns, and overcoming obstacles to the goals God has set for us.

    In one we pray amiss and struggle against God. In the other we exercise our spiritual resolve and grow stronger.

    In one we wonder why. In the other we feel the struggle with the pleasure of a good exercise.

    In one we can grow weaker, in the other feel the accomplishment in spite of the exhaustion.

    It is all about getting self out of the way and allowing Christ to be seen.

  6. dependent says:

    Sounds like the authors of both these passages agree with the notion that:

    “Adversity introduces us to ourselves.”

    Since the fall of mankind, humans have been destined to live in an adverse environment. God’s curses against the earth, our inbred rebellion against our Creator, the access and ongoing influence of the evil one and our own ignorance sometimes combine in one way or another to overwhelm our sense of the blessings bestowed by God. And while Christ-followers hold to that inborn “hope of glory” there are these very real struggles. Christ made it clear that despite our new-found alien status (we are in the world, not of the world) we would indeed have tribulation.

    Added to the adverse conditions experienced by all humankind, the Christ follower is exposed to the very real threats that are part and parcel of living for the sake of Christ and working for His kingdom.

    I think that Paul is writing primarily of those hardships that came as a result of taking up his cross to follow Jesus. Adversity for the cause of Christ, not only exposes his weaknesses, but provides the opportunity for Christ’s power to be made real in his life. Sometimes God expresses that power in the miraculous interventions that serve as signs to unbelievers and a sure encouragement of the Life within us.

    But sometimes, as James points out, God’s miraculous intervention is hard to see as we face “all kinds” of trials and temptations. To me, that includes not only that which comes as a direct response to proclaiming Christ, but also those that are common to man. And this greatest miracle of all is worked out through patience and endurance.

    The miracle? Maturing closer and closer to the image of Christ in us. Expressing on the outside what was re-born on the inside. Living lives that increasingly reflect the nature of Christ as selfishness and pride of the flesh are minimized and the light of Christ’s good news shines forth.

    So, when adversity strikes, can we embrace it as a dual opportunity? One, for the power of God to be displayed through our weaknesses. And two, one that introduces us to another part of “self” that must be crucified if we are to “taste and see” more of the glory of God.

    It’s a radical way of thinking. Especially in an age when comfort and escape seem to be the prize. Oh, we indeed have an eternity to thank God for the escape from death as we enjoy His comforting presence for eternity. And his grace and mercy allow us to see and enjoy part of it right now, due to the Spirit of Christ in us.

    Thank you Mart for reminding us of the tension between the true and inspiring hope that comes from the “you have not because you ask not” plan of scripture AND the “count it all joy to endure” plan of God.

    I’ve come to believe that my Father’s love for me, in light of the big picture that only He can see, is expressed in the notion that:
    “God is MORE interested in our character than our comfort.”

    [not saying that He is not at all interested in comforting us, just that he knows that the most abundant communion with Him unfolds as we become more like His Beloved Son, Christ Jesus]

  7. Rmeprath says:

    Many thanks for the post Mart. Nice one and the comments that follow are wonderful too.But quite frankly for some of us the entirety of this post will unfold or be understood,when we ‘ve gone through several of life’s trials and tribulations knowing that it was God who helped us through. Its then when you start to realize the meaning of – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2Cor 12:9.

  8. kaliko88 says:

    Sometimes I despair of building any endurance. And that’s all I have to say about this. I thank you too, Mart, for putting up thought-provoking posts, but this is too close to the pain. This hurts too much to say any more. I’m sorry all, I couldn’t even concentrate on your comments, which isn’t fair.

  9. BobbiLee says:

    Ahhhh, …”not to waste the pain…”. What a statement! How often we do waste the opportunity to grow because all we ask for is to be taken out of the trial. We get to know Him better IN those adverse circumstances because He is there with us. As Isaiah says, He does not lead us over or around, but through. Our responsibility is to not have a temper tantrum and allow Him to hold our hand, or even lift us up when we are in the “deep waters” of life.

  10. SFDBWV says:

    So many hurting people. So deep the wound that there seems nothing left but the hope death.

    Christ came that we not only have life but live it abundantly. Yet so many suffer poverty and hunger and pain.

    All the 13 man whom became Disciples, suffered because of their choice to follow Jesus. I say thirteen because one had to betray Him and suffer most of all.

    Throughout the early Church believers were beaten abused and killed for their beliefs.

    When I read of the human torches that lit the parties for Nero and the torment of the arena, I am ashamed of my small complaints.

    Perhaps one of the worst things that could happen to the Church was becoming comfortable and safe.

    We all want from God. But the sad truth is we have very little to give Him. We can offer our belief and trust. But that seems easy enough, until we are ask to put that belief and trust to the test.

    I hate all the suffering I see in this world. I hate seeing people broken because of their hopelessness. I hate many dark and evil things, I can do nothing about.

    So I pray and trust and wait on God, for there is sometimes little else I can do nor that He wants me to do.

    I love you Kaliko88


  11. cherielyn says:


    I am praying for you!


  12. BobbiLee says:

    SFDBWV So true, I have always felt the same when it comes to suffering. I think even beyond beyond and trust that we desire to give Him, is the giving of our selves. We must die to self. That is harder than ever. We can only do that by dying to our old self and then living for Him. Easy? No, if not for the Holy Spirit it would be impossible. My life verse is Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

    The Apostle Paul said that he had to “die daily”. Ouch.

    Kaliko88, When I read your post last night I prayed for you then and I am still doing so. All I can say is that this life is not all there is, this earth is not heaven, and that we cannot imagine the joy that lies ahead for those that love Him. For now though, we must refocus on Him and put ourselves totally in His hands and trust Him.

  13. poohpity says:

    For myself I have to consider is what I am suffering because of my faith or is it because of bad choices I have made. 9 times out of 10 it is because of the choices I have made and I am sooooo very thankful that I am spared to full consequences of those decisions. Paul said to be thankful in all circumstances because of who we trust in. I have lived without so much yet I have so very much compared to people who have less and there are many who have less. I am happy to have a roof over my head, clothes, shoes, car, food and the love of our God and my sons. This is just a partial list of all I have and when I begin to look at what I have not that is when discouragement sets in.

    In the United States we have so much available to us and more than anything else we have a law that protects our right to believe what we want. Bragging rights belong to those who are not saddled down with so much stuff, less responsibility and more time to serve the Lord. There is always the Son to be at the top of the list of Thanksgiving.

  14. mjday11 says:

    On the subject of strength in weakness, I received the following handout at bible study last week –

    The Next Time You Feel God Can’t Use You, Just Remember…

    * NOAH was a drunk
    * ABRAHAM was too old
    * ISAAC was a daydreamer
    * JACOB was a liar
    * LEAH was ugly
    * JOSEPH was abused
    * MOSES had a stuttering problem
    * GIDEON was afraid
    * SAMSON was a womanizer and had long hair
    * RAHAB was a prostitute
    * JEREMIAH and TIMOTHY were too young
    * DAVID was a murderer and had an affair
    * ELIJAH was suicidal
    * ISAIAH preached naked
    * JONAH ran from God
    * NAOMI was a widow
    * JOB went bankrupt
    * JOHN THE BAPTIST ate bugs
    * PETER denied Christ
    * THE DISCIPLES fell asleep while praying
    * MARTHA worried about everything
    * MARY MADDALENE was, well, you know
    * THE SAMARITAN WOMAN was divorced, more than once
    * ZACCHEUS was too small
    * PAUL was too religious
    * TIMOTHY had an ulcer
    * Lazarus was dead

    SO no more excuses now. God’s waiting to use our full potential!

  15. HEY REV says:


    Just a word of encouragement for you.

    Not everything we face can be changed, but nothing can be changed untill faced.

    Don’t feel discouraged—-even the sun has a sinking spell every night, but it rises again every morning.

    Things will change for your good because
    Jeremiah 29:11 says so. Hold unto it.
    Many here will be praying for you and you will have a positive testimony for us.

    hey rev

    P.S.I cannot add anything more than what all the others have said (on this blog)and what the others after me will say. We’re all made from the same dust.

  16. pegramsdell says:

    mj that was awesome. thank you. :)

  17. bubbles says:

    Dear Kaliko88,
    I’m so sorry things are difficult right now. I will pray for you. I’ll pray that perhaps the Lord could bring someone across your path that has experienced the same thing you are facing. It really helps the have a person near who really understands what the problem is.

    There is a verse in 2 Cor.1 (I’m outside & don’t have my Bible with me) verses 3 and 4?? that goes along with Mart’s wonderful thoughts. It reminds us that since God has comforted us in our trials that we can in turn help others who are in pain. These are very special verses of encouragement because they show us how we can use the problems that God has allowed to come into our lives.

    Poohpity, I’ll pray for you tonight too.
    Steve, I really try to pray for you and your family each night also.

    Mart, thank you so much for your thoughts.

  18. johnson baby says:

    Dear brothers

    my name is johnson iam from india,working in middle east.as we discussed about th paul hardship I am going through such situation now before everyone including among family members for the sakes of god iam going through much trouble similiar like paul.but one thing I notice from the paul situaion even the midst of every problem god physcicaly appeared to him and strenghthen him that was his secret for a victorious life .so I pray that if we could experience the god comforts, easily we could overcome .so please pray for me .WE KNOW ABOUT GOD AND WE HEARD ABOUT GOD BUT WE NEVER SEEN HIM LIKE PAUL SAW .WHEN WE SEE OUR LORD EVERYTHING WILL CHANGED SO PLEASE PRAY FOR THE GOD TOUCH.OUR GOD IS SAME YESTERDAY,TODAY AND FOREEVER

  19. SFDBWV says:

    johnson baby, I will indeed pray for you to have the “God touch”.

    But don’t expect Him to present Himself to you to see. He will speak to you, He will send angels for you, He will give you supernatural abilities. One of His disciples named Thomas, would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he saw the wounds himself. Jesus said that blessed are thoes who believe and yet do not see.

    He will been seen in the actions of His believers as well as in the eyes of thoes who suffer.

    Though we are a half a world away, we are bound together in the body of Christ.

    I will pray for you to be filled with His Holy Spirit so that you can know He is with you always, even if you can’t see Him.

  20. SFDBWV says:

    Just read a news story where a North Korean 33 year old mother of 3, Ri Hyon Ok, was publicly executed by the North Korean government…for handing out Bibles.

    I pray for her family.

  21. daisymarygoldr says:

    Obedience is not a human trait…it has to be learned and Jesus Christ Himself being the Son of God learned “obedience” through His pain and sufferings (Heb 5:8). If obedience is required of me, then there is no way that I will be exempted from the crucible of excruciating pain. Untested faith is no faith. Moreover, for a child of God, pain will never be in vain…It will ultimately mold me into the complete character of Christ and His Holiness.

    Sometimes, pain is also caused by my own sinful choices. Hence, it is good that God is using pain to purge out all evil from within me. Also, it is better for me to not complain and kick… rather yield in silent obedience to bear the pain caused by God purifying my sinful character, than to face a future of perpetual pain due to my sins separating me from our Holy God.

    However, it must be noted that Paul’s “bragging rights for losers” was due to pain and suffering for the sake of the Gospel…it was not the painful consequence of sins. The pain caused by the thorn in his flesh was to remind him to remain humble because his effective ministry was because of the power of God working in and through his weaknesses and sufferings.

    Is a servant above his Master? Christ suffered and His disciples must also suffer for spreading the Good News… hence pain, for me is inevitable. Therefore, I am always grateful for all the pain which God my Heavenly Father permits in my life… and I constantly seek His strength to endure the pain of my light and momentary afflictions which is working in me a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!

  22. afranz says:

    I was wondering about God’s bragging rights, for you, His children who are taking up your crosses and continuing to praise and glorify Him in your suffering. Like Job, Paul and many of you…”time and chance have happened to you all” (Ecc. 9-11)
    But you keep on trusting, having faith, not letting go, even though you may have despairing times like Paul did, even unto death.
    I am encouraged and lifted up by your stories and your faith. Thank you so much for sharing on this sight. I believe God is glorified so much more by your continued trust and praise.

  23. rxman says:

    Walking to work this morning I was trying to pray and was wondering if I even know how to pray. I was asking God some questions and then He showed me, I feel, how the prayer thing is supposed to work. So often we say we need to depend on God, but I wonder if the word we should be using is trusting in God. Trusting in God to answer our prayers when we ask Him. Doing our part in “working out our salvation” and trusting Him to do His part. It’s the same with prayer. I need to trust that God is going to answer my prayers and seek that answer and not just wait for a neon sign to appear and show me the answer. Sorry for the rambling. This is my first time on this blog. Thanks for listening.

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